Sacramento activists call for homeless camping without penalty amid state efforts

As Senate Democrats and Sacramento mayoral candidate Darrell Steinberg called for spending $2 billion statewide on homes for homeless people, protesters returned to Sacramento City Hall in force Monday to demand that homeless people be allowed to camp without a permanent roof over their heads.

The demonstrators pitched tents, munched on pizza and chanted slogans, vowing to continue their presence despite the threat of police action. Since Dec. 8, several people have camped out in the vicinity, but police moved in early Saturday to clear the area.

A few protesters were arrested Saturday, and one was arrested Monday morning. Activists say it is unfair to arrest people for sleeping outdoors.

“This is a public office, and it should be available to the people 24/7,” said James “Faygo” Clark, a protest leader. “If there are more arrests, that will be up to the city.”

Sacramento has a ban on urban camping, and city officials said Sunday they would continue to enforce the camping ordinance.

At a press conference in Los Angeles and another one blocks away from Sacramento City Hall, Senate Democrats called for a budget plan that dedicates $2 billion to build homes for homeless people with mental illnesses.

The measure would be funded by Proposition 63, the existing 1 percent income tax on Californians earning $1 million or more per year to pay for mental health services.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said in Los Angeles that the money could fund construction of at least 10,000 housing units statewide.

In addition to the $2 billion bond, de León, D-Los Angeles, said he will push for $200 million out of the general fund budget over four years to provide rent subsidies for homeless people. He will also seek to increase in the Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment grants that help low-income seniors and people with disabilities. The measure would not have to go on the ballot, but would be part of the budget negotiations with Brown.

De León cast the proposal as a bipartisan effort. He and his predecessor, Darrell Steinberg, were joined in Los Angeles by two Republican senators, Bob Huff and John Moorlach.

During an interview Monday, Steinberg, a Sacramento mayoral candidate and author of Proposition 63, called the demonstration at City Hall a “symptom and plea for real solutions to the homeless problem.”

“Homelessness does not have to be helplessness,” Steinberg said. “We know what works – intensive outreach and permanent housing, coupled with services … (Homelessness) is a humanitarian issue, but it’s also an economic and public safety issue.”

Steinberg added, “The number one priority is permanent housing with services.”

Nearly 30,000 chronically homeless people live in California, more than one-third of the nation’s total chronically homeless population, according to federal estimates.

Senate Democrats estimate annual debt service on a $2 billion bond would require about $130 million of about $1.8 billion in annual Proposition 63 revenue.

Proposition 63, passed by California voters in 2004, has been hailed by mental health advocates as an irreplaceable source of funding, while facing persistent criticism about oversight.

Rose King, a political consultant who helped craft Proposition 63, said that before the state starts spending money on housing construction, it should repair a mental health system that she said fails to reach many Californians who need it.

“We totally oppose this,” she said.

Richard Chang: 916-321-1018, @RichardYChang

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